Sunday Reflection: Humility

A pastor decided it was high time to give his people a serious talking to.  His sermon hit fever pitch when he roared, “Every member of this parish is going to die....every member!”  As he scanned the congregation in a somewhat self satisfied way to gauge the impact of his dramatic and sobering words, he was pleased to see that his people looked duly sober, except for one middle-aged woman who had a big smile on her face.  “What are you smiling at?” growled the pastor.  “Well, said the smiling lady, “I’m not a member of this parish - I never registered!” 

My brothers and sisters, we can certainly give that lady a “A-plus for denial!” as well as an “A-Plus for Hubris- that marvelous word that means foolish pride that has a way of persuading us to think that we’re not like the rest of folks. In our more honest moments, of course, we know that’s a lie, but isn’t it amazing how much energy so many of us can waste trying to prove it’s true. 

Unwholesome pride can take many different forms in many different people.  For some, it can be slavery to a lifestyle that’s supposed to prove we’re different and better.  For some, it can be a fierce competitiveness in even the silliest things...the need to win at all prove we’re different and better.  For some, it can be an intellectual arrogance, taking pride in gathering up knowledge about arcane subjects again to prove we’re different, smarter, and better than the rest.  

Whatever it’s shape, pride is always ugly.  And it always cuts us off from others and deprives us of the one thing we really desire: solidarity and communion with one another.  What an irony that is: To work so hard to prove we’re special and then to end up scorned and alone because people can’t stand being around us. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” 

So what about the alternative, humility?  Unfortunately, the word itself has been so caricatured in recent times that I suspect the first thing that pops into most our minds on hearing it is the image of some groveling, spineless individual, who lacks self determination and direction in life.  Or the image of the self-effacing individual who shudders at the thought of praise or recognition.   

Where in the world did we get such images?  Where in the world did we get the idea that humility means brushing off all praise and minimizing our gifts?  My brothers and sisters, that’s not humility  - that’s ingratitude to God, who gave us good gifts to be developed, enjoyed, and shared.   

So what does real humility look like?  Real humility is truth.  And the essential truth about us is that under the skin we’re all the same, made from the same earth, short-lived, in need of one another’s help, rejoicing in the compassion of others, equally hungering for spiritual depth, all destined to grow old and die. 

That’s the truth about us.  And once we face it, face our own pains and fears and our own need for help, we begin to see and understand the same needs in others.  We begin to recognize one another as sisters and brothers.  And the thought of trying to prove we’re different or better is exposed as bizarre, irrelevant, and a lie.  Suddenly, we’re not alone.  We’re surrounded by fellow pilgrims, all walking the same road to the Lord.  Jesus was indeed right: If we humble ourselves - if we are vulnerable enough to speak the truth and live the truth about ourselves - we will be exalted and transformed. And we won’t have to wait for heaven for that to begin.

My brothers and sisters, the Lord invites us to relax in Him; to relish his good gifts to us and to share them with others.  The Lord invites us to walk in the truth - a truth that will truly make us free and faithful in Christ.